Focus on Sport

Exercise physiology is a sub-discipline of physiology; it is the study of how the body responds to exercise both acutely (i.e. during exercise and in recovery) and chronically (i.e. over time).

Exercise physiologists study the major systems of the body including the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, digestive system and muscles; and also the nervous control of these systems.  Through measuring the variables associated with these systems (such as heart rate, lung function, hydration and lactate) exercise physiologists are able to determine the effects of exercise, nutrition and temperature and use this information to advise on training programmes and nutrition.

However, it is important to note that exercise physiologists don’t only work to optimise the performance of athletes and healthy individuals. Tailored training programmes can be used as a therapy to help prevent diseases such as high blood pressure, heart failure, obesity and osteoporosis and can also be used for rehabilitation in diseases such as diabetes.

At school, students will gain a basic understanding of all the key systems studied by exercise physiologists and can choose to develop their knowledge as part of a physiology or physiology-related degree (for example, sport science or sport physiology). Through studying a degree, students will have the opportunity to further explore the value of physiology and physiologists in optimising the exercise performance of individuals.

This website includes a number of resources that provide an insight into some of the measurements taken by exercise physiologists and also provides career profiles for Dr Marco Cardinale (the Head of Sports Science and Research at the British Olympic Association) and Dr Valerie Gladwell (a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex).

The role of exercise physiologists is becoming more high profile: both in the training of elite athletes but also amongst celebrities – with stars like David Walliams working with Professor Greg Whyte, a Professor of Applied Sport & Exercise Science, to prepare himself for challenges such as the channel crossing.

Running man


8 September 2011

Researchers at the University of Exeter carried out a placebo-controlled study into the effects of drinking beetroot juice on the amount of time athletes can cycle on an exercise bike.  After...

Ask a Physiologist

Is there a way to precisely detect the age of a human body? (Maxine, age 17)
On one level, yes, more precisely than for any other organism.  This is because, uniquely, you can ask a person for their date of birth, which is one of the first things that a doctor will ask, because it is vital for providing a context for...


19 April 2012
Free 'In the Zone' kits have been sent to all UK schools by The Wellcome Trust. These kits contain equipment and resources that offer students the opportunity to explore how the human body works through practical investigation.
Teacher, 4-11, Sport, 11-14, 14-16, 16+
30 March 2012
We are delighted to announce the winners of our schools competition, The Science of Sport: How to Win Gold.
5 March 2012
The Drugs In Sport debate kit produced by I'm A Scientist and sponsored by The Physiological Society has been launched. Sign-up here to receive yours.
Teacher, Sport, 11-14, 14-16, 16+


7 August 2012

Steve Ingham, Head of Physiology at the English Institute of Sport, describes his job as a sports physiologist. He explains how physiologists to train athletes by understanding the processes that underpin their performance and researching the way body responds when it is pushed to its limits.

7 August 2012

Head of Physiology at the English Institute of Sport, Steve Ingham, explains why he is excited by sports physiology and why researching the performance of elite athletes is so interesting.

7 August 2012

Steve Ingham of the English Institute of Sport explains how altitude training changes the physiology of humans and why this is used for athletes. He describes recent innovations in low-level oxygen training to increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood and conditioning the muscles.

6 August 2012

Steve Ingham, Head of Physiology at the English Institute of Sport, shows Meera Sentilingham the "instruments of torture" in the Human Performance Lab at Loughborough University. He personally demonstrates how equipment like exercise bikes and treadmills are used to take measurements that aim to ensure athletes' physiological capabilities peak at competition time.

12 July 2012

Steve Ingham is interviewed by Meera Senthilingam at the public event "Designer athletes: fair play or foul?" at The Kia Oval in London on Monday 19 March.

Steve explains that, in his role as Head of Physiology at the English Institute of Sport, he bridges the gap between fundamental research and coaches and athletes. He uses an evidence-based approach when working with athletes, using data about performance to link back to training techniques he has helped them to implement.

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